“If you want to be fulfilled,
go, sell what you have,
give it to the poor…
Come, follow me.”
Matthew 19: 21
Today’s Gospel of the rich young man startles us from the United States. Why would Jesus ask the young man, seeking fulfillment, to sell all, give to the poor, and follow Him?
The man wants to know what good he should do to have eternal life. Note the phrases he uses: “What good shall I do?” It’s about what I’m supposed to do; it’s something I can do. “To have eternal life”: I want to have it, so that it’s my possession.
But Jesus replies, “If you want to enter into eternal life…” It’s a life we enter into; it’s not just something we do, something we have control of by our actions. “Keep the commandments”: follow the guidelines of the Covenant between God and Israel.
After Jesus lists the commandments, the young man says he’s observed them, but what is lacking. He feels an emptiness in only following the laws.
Jesus offers his something more. He offers his the opportunity to be fulfilled. (The normal translation is ”If you want to be perfect.” But I think the Greek τέλειος might be better translated in this context as “fulfilled.”)
But it involves giving up what one has, but even more, I think, it means giving up control. The money is to be given to the poor and he is called to follow Jesus.
But the young man goes away, sad, “because he had many possessions.”
Jesus is on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem, where he will be crucified. Having things ties us down, for they have us in their possession.
But following Jesus demands giving up control, letting us be led where we might not want to go. And our goods keep us tied down; they hold us to a comfortable life.
It doesn’t matter if we have many possessions. Even holding on to a few possessions, with a spirit of detachment, can hold us bound, can keep us from the “more” that God asks of us.
But this is not a mere question of possessions. It’s question of whether we are willing to follow Jesus wherever He goes – even to the Cross.
It’s not a matter of what good deeds we must do. It’s an invitation to join in the company of Jesus and walk with Him – in the way of poverty, detachment, and loving commitment.
It’s not easy – but God can give us strength to walk the way with Jesus.